Gov’t goes on double-talk in response to Basilan ambush

Peace Process Adviser Jesus Dureza told a press forum in his seaside resort here Friday that they have tasked the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) coordinating committees on the cessation of hostilities (GRP-MILF CCCH) to investigate the attack before any action is undertaken.

He took pride in saying the mechanisms of the peace process helped and that the Marines had not retaliated because of the primacy of the peace process. 

"We have activated mechanisms to verify and validate what actually happened," he said.

But the Armed Forces of the Philippines had a different take.

In Quezon City, AFP public information chief Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Bacarro told reporters Friday that the military will mount "punitive actions" against the perpetrators of the ambush. 

Bacarro claimed the military has verified the identities of the assailants, even as Dureza, the peace process adviser said AFP Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, the government ceasefire head is "still on the ground interviewing witnesses" to the incident.

GMANews TV quoted Bacarro as saying, “it’s not going to be all-out war but as we have said these are punitive actions.”

Dureza briefed reporters in Davao City that Gurrea is in Basilan as of press time doing ground work including verifying a report one of the probable causes of the "savagery" was the killing of an imam (a Muslim religious) hogtied in Tipo-tipo.  

He said the peace process shouldn't be sidelined in the aftermath of the incident saying there is greater need to work more with peace negotiations.

Dureza explained that the ceasefire committees must first attend to the situation, conduct an investigation on what and why the killing happened, and file a report about it before any next step should be taken.

He cited President Arroyo's order to account for the perpetrators of the heinous attack in line with the rule of law.

He said, however, that it cannot just be immediately shoot at the suspects. He said it should be after identification of the perpetrators, then do what is appropriate step to let the rule of law take its course before any military action.

We have activated mechanisms to verify and validate what actually happened" immediately after the incident. But he could not give any time frame up to when the probe will go,” he said.

Dureza cautioned against implicating the Moro Islamic Liberation Front immediately into the situation saying the group isn't involved institutionally as an organization even if they admitted they were part of the group that engaged the Marines.

"Maybe we should wait for the identification of the culprits," he said.

The MILF said in its website today they will form an investigating team to probe who were responsible of the beheading and on the report of the killing of the imam in the same area in Tipo-tipo town. 

The MILF admitted they engaged the military because the marines entered without coordination.  

Dureza said the situation in Basilan has a very negative effect to the public but does not dampen their enthusiasm.

"Without the peace process, you can just imagine what kind of fireworks would ensue immediately after the incident," he said.

The troops were reportedly ambushed on their way back from an operation to check reports kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi had been sighted in the area. 

Malacañang issued a statement on July 12 saying if the perpetrators are Abu Sayyaf, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front must stand apart from these terrorists and allow their pursuit and interdiction by the Philippine government.

"If MILF forces are culpable, then they must be accounted for by the ceasefire committees and be brought to justice. There can be no excuses or alibis for these acts of savagery," it said.

Dureza stressed that the ceasefire mechanisms work and will show the peace process will prevent a big war from happening in the heels of the ambush